Mind Over Matter


When teaching cycling classes, some of my favorite words of motivation to yell out to my clients are: “Your mind will always quit before your body, but don’t let that happen.”

Even though I constantly relay this message, I never experienced its true power until my recent vacation (or should I say adventure in Peru). I am not sure you can call hiking over 50 miles for seven days, up and down thousands of stairs, to elevations around 16,000 feet a vacation. But it was during these seven days that I learn a very valuable lesson: You are capable of whatever you set your mind to.

I went on this two-week adventure with a friend, who virtually planned the whole trip. She found the trekking company and informed me that it would be better to do the seven-day hike rather than the traditional four day Inca Trail. Sure I said, having no idea what I was getting myself into.

The night before departing for the trek, we met with our guide who went over the itinerary. We would be hiking 10 to 15 miles a day, sleeping in a tent and carrying all of our belongings in our backpacks. To say this was far out of my comfort zone would be an understatement.

Luckily the first day was the easiest day. We hiked for about eight miles along a flat trail. I began to think this wouldn’t be so bad. Then came day two. We hiked up from 12,000 feet to 14,000 feet. It took us about four hours. The altitude was my worst enemy. I was nauseous, had a headache and low energy. Then next day only got worse. After sleeping at 14,000 feet in 20-degree weather, we then had to ascend to our highest point, 16,000 feet.

As a marathon runner, I consider myself in pretty good shape. However, on the side of this mountain, I would take 10 steps then be completely out of breath. My heart would be in my throat, with my lungs gasping for air. But I knew I had one mission, to get to the top. I could see it. I knew where I needed to go. I would block out all of the negative feelings and simply focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Step after step, I just kept going. I knew that giving up was not an option, and I wanted more than anything to prove to myself that I could do this.

This was so much more a test of mental toughness rather than physical strength. And this is true of a lot of things in life. Our minds become our own worst enemy, filling our heads with notions of self-doubt, anxiety and insecurity. We convince ourselves that certain things are not possible, whether it is applying for a job, taking on a new project, or even addressing conflict with a co-worker. We doubt our mental fortitude, when in reality we can achieve anything we put our minds to.

So the next time you are presented with a challenge or something you want to accomplish, think of my trekking experience and remember that you are capable of more than you think.

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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